Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Movies

Entertainment Movies

'Phantom' goes underwater, but not deep ★★

On March 8, 1968, about 1,800 miles northwest of Oahu in the Pacific Ocean, the diesel-powered Soviet submarine K-129 exceeded its crush depth and imploded, for mysterious reasons a screenwriter would find intriguing on which to speculate. All 98 of its crew members died. The sub sank with three ballistic nuclear missiles as well as two nuclear torpedoes.

How close did the world come to a serious, serious problem that day? What really happened? Did the commander go rogue, and why?

Regarding "Phantom," here's another matter of speculation: How did this submarine movie turn out so unseaworthy?

Facts first, then opinions. This is a no-dialect movie. Nobody does a Slavic accent; rather, the American actors, chiefly Ed Harris (as the delusional, haunted captain), David Duchovny (as a KGB agent on board for a fateful trip) and William Fichtner (as the captain's loyal No. 2), swap ethnicity for relatability, though Fichtner can't help himself from here and there adding a slight foreignness, a weary Russian cadence to his lines.

Just back from a three-month tour of duty, Capt. Dmitri Zubov takes command of the aging nuclear-armed missile, which is equipped with a sonar-repelling device being tested by the cryptic operatives onboard. These men have "ruthless secret service who don't take nyet for an answer" written all over their foreheads, and they want the sub for their own high-risk purposes. Harris' captain, in between visions of flames and dying men, refuses to give ground, setting a long, narrow, clammy stage for a showdown.

The screenwriter and director Todd Robinson hasn't made a bad film with "Phantom," merely a stiff one. Would rhetorical questions such as "Do you think we can be redeemed for the things we've done?" come across better in Russian, subtitled into English? If so many lines are followed, like clockwork, by a footnote-type add-on ("Ah, yes, your father ... he commanded the first submarine brigade of the Baltic Fleet"), then can "Phantom" ever really get going as human drama?

Robinson is undone partly by his own workmanlike touch as a writer, and partly by matters of casting. I like Harris, and he's quite moving here, but every time Duchovny reappears the overall energy level sinks to crush depth. Fichtner, a longtime supporting player, clearly appreciates the opportunity to tackle a larger and more sympathetic role than usual. He conveys that enjoyment to the audience, in the service of his character. Nice job. All around him, though, "Phantom" makes a middling suspense case for its fictional scenario of what happened, down there in the depths of the Cold War.

mjphillips@tribune.com

'Phantom' -- 2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for violence)
Running time: 1:37
Opens: Friday

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • 10 movies to see this winter

    10 movies to see this winter

    Tribune movie critic Michael Phillips picks 10 movies you should see in the coming months.

  • Oscars 2013: Red carpet arrivals

    Oscars 2013: Red carpet arrivals

    Jessica Chastain, Amy Adams, Anne Hathaway, Kerry Washington, Hugh Jackman and more stars arrive at the Dolby Theatre for the 85th Academy Awards. By Jevon Phillips. Winners | Red carpet | Show highlights | Quotes | Backstage | Winners' room | Best & worst moments | Best dressed | Worst dressed...

  • Top 50 superhero movies of the last 10 years

    Top 50 superhero movies of the last 10 years

    Since 2002 there have been arguably 50 movies about superheroes. Arguably, because genre is tricky; it's often variations on a theme, and some variations are less obvious than others. ("Star Wars," for instance, a bit of a space western, is no one's picture of the western genre.) Oh, also: Because...

  • Best movies of 2012

    Best movies of 2012

    Tribune movie critic Michael Phillips picks the top 10 movies of the year.

  • 'Good Kill,' with Ethan Hawke, targets human costs of drone warfare

    'Good Kill,' with Ethan Hawke, targets human costs of drone warfare

    Form matches content in "Good Kill," a movie about the desensitizing effects of drone warfare. Repeated, suffocating scenes of remote warfare make you acutely aware of the soul-draining despair felt by its pilot protagonist.

  • 'Slow West' review: Novel gunslingers

    'Slow West' review: Novel gunslingers

    There's an alien feel to "Slow West," an unconventionally conventional Western about a romantic tenderfoot provided safe passage to the frontier by a grizzled, unsentimental gunman.

  • 'Tomorrowland' review: Clooney imagineers hope

    'Tomorrowland' review: Clooney imagineers hope

    By now you probably heard that the series finale of "Mad Men" ended with adman Don Draper dressed in loose-fitting whites, chanting "om" on the lawn of a commune in California, perched at the edge of the Pacific, the 1960s having slid into the 1970s. Then, just as we assumed Don had found spiritual...

  • 'Poltergeist' review: Spiritless reboot is heeeere

    'Poltergeist' review: Spiritless reboot is heeeere

    The closing credits for Gil Kenan's remake of the 1982 horror classic "Poltergeist" feature the band Spoon covering the Cramps' 1980 punk classic "TV Set." Spoon is a tasteful, studious yet largely anodyne indie-rock outfit that has become an NPR staple; the Cramps were a scuzzy, unhinged psychobilly...

Comments
Loading

75°